Pope Francis speaks to reporters aboard the plane heading to Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Reuters

Abu Dhabi: Pope Francis arrived in the capital last night— the first time a pontiff has visited the Arabian Peninsula.

During his three-day visit, around 135,000 Catholics are expected to attend the papal mass on February 5, which has been declared a public holiday for those attending the event at Zayed Sports City Stadium.

The pontiff’s visit to Abu Dhabi adds a new page to the UAE’s history of tolerance toward people of different religions and cultures.

135000people

Are expected to attend the Papal mass on February 5 at Zayed Sports City Stadium.

Earlier yesterday evening, Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar, also arrived in Abu Dhabi. The two prominent figures will be taking part in the ‘Human Fraternity’ dialogue.

We, as UAE leadership and people, are looking forward to this historic visit that will contribute to underpinning the values of tolerance, peaceful co-existence, and cultural exchange.

- Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has welcomed “the visit of Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church, to the UAE. We, as UAE leadership and people, are looking forward to this historic visit that will contribute to underpinning the values of tolerance, peaceful co-existence and cultural exchange,” he said in a statement marking the occasion.

“Over five decades since its establishment, the UAE has been promoting the values of love, security, acceptance, freedom of religion and respect of others,” he added.

“We warmly welcome you Holy Father, Pope Francis and look forward to the historic Human Fraternity Meeting between you and His Eminence Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, in Abu Dhabi,” His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces has tweeted.

We warmly welcome you Holy Father, Pope Francis and look forward to the Human Fraternity Meeting between you and His Eminence Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar in Abu Dhabi.

- Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Yesterday, before boarding the flight to Abu Dhabi from Rome, Pope Francis said: “I am about to leave for the United Arab Emirates. I am visiting that country as a brother, in order to write a page of dialogue together, and to travel paths of peace together. Pray for me!”

Faith brings us together even in the face of differences. It also keeps us away from hostility and indifference. I am happy on this occasion, granted to me by God, which will create a new chapter in the history of relations between faiths.

- Pope Francis

Last week, in a video message, the pope extended his warm greetings to the leadership and people of the UAE. He described the UAE as a “country that is striving to be a model for co-existence, human fraternity, and meeting of faiths and civilisations.”

In a video message released by the Vatican, the Pope stressed that the UAE was a “country where so many people find a safe place to live and work with freedom that respects differences.” He said he was “delighted to be meeting with a people who live out their present and look forward to the future.”

New chapter

Pope Francis thanked Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed for inviting him to “take part in a dialogue of religions titled ‘Human Fraternity’.” He also extended his gratitude to the UAE authorities for their “excellent cooperation, great hospitality and brotherly welcome.”

“Faith brings us together even in the face of differences. It also keeps us away from hostility and indifference. I am happy on this occasion, granted to me by God, which will create a new chapter in the history of relations between faiths,” Pope Francis added.

During the visit, the UAE will host the largest and most diverse gathering of religious leaders, thinkers and faith representatives at the Global Conference on Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi on February 3 and 4, organised by the Muslim Council of Elders.

Writing on Twitter, Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affair, said the UAE welcomes Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, and Grand Imam of Al Azhar Shaikh Ahmad Al Tayyeb.

“It is a visit that carries great humanitarian worth and one in which our country adds a new page in our history of brotherhood and tolerance among people of different religions and cultures,” he wrote. “The visit affirms to the world, the UAE’s approach to tolerance and peaceful coexistence, the founding principles of the UAE since the founding of the Union, guided by the legacy of our founder Shaikh Zayed.”